The party that bears fault for a car accident generally also bears liability for paying for damages from the accident, including property damage and personal injuries. If you suffered injuries in a car accident, you must first determine who is liable for your accident. While the liable party will depend on a range of factors, take a look at these common car accident scenarios and who bears liability for them.
1. Rear-End Collisions
In most rear-end collisions, the rear car is liable for the accident. Sometimes, the front car may stop abruptly, making it very difficult for the driver of the rear car to stop in time. Regardless, the driver of the rear car must maintain a reasonable distance from the car in front to provide adequate time to stop, even in the event of an emergency or fast stop.
Sometimes, the rear car may cause the car in front to collide with another vehicle, especially if the rear vehicle collides with the front car with a great deal of force. In that case, the rearmost driver usually still bears liability for the accident.
In some cases, a rear-end collision may occur due to brake failure. In this situation, the rear driver may attempt to stop, only to discover that the brakes don’t work properly. Brake failure can occur due to poor maintenance on the vehicle, failure on a mechanic’s part when repairing the brakes, or a manufacturer’s error. Liability can rest with the owner, the mechanic, or the vehicle manufacturer, depending on what led to the brake failure. An attorney can further investigate your claim to determine who may share liability for the accident.
2. T-Bone Accidents
T-bone accidents occur when one car strikes the other in the side, usually in an intersection. T-bone accidents often occur because one vehicle fails to yield when coming through the intersection. In the case of T-bone accidents, liability often rests with the driver who fails to yield. When drivers fail to yield coming through an intersection, they may strike another car already in the intersection. Often, drivers fly through intersections due to inebriation or distraction.
T-bone accidents may also result from brake failure. Liability for brake failures may rest with the vehicle manufacturer or with a mechanic that recently worked on the vehicle’s brakes.
3. An Accident With a Commercial Vehicle
Commercial vehicle accidents, whether they involve an Uber or Lyft vehicle or a big commercial truck, often require a more complex investigation than a standard auto accident.
Commercial drivers can cause accidents in a variety of ways, just like any other driver. Commercial drivers may cause accidents due to inebriation, distraction, or failing to adhere to the rules of the road, including speeding or ignoring traffic signals. In addition to direct driver liability, however, several other entities may also share liability in an accident with a commercial vehicle, discussed in further detail below.
The Driver’s Employer
In several scenarios, the driver’s employer may share liability for the accident. A commercial driver’s employer must adhere to specific regulations and pass on requirements to the driver.
Depending on the driver’s responsibilities, the company may be liable for a variety of different reasons, including the following examples:
- The company forced the driver to drive in unsafe conditions. A pizza delivery driver indicated to his employer that he did not feel comfortable driving in snow or heavy rain, but his employer forced him to come in and take care of his usual job responsibilities anyway. He caused an accident due to slick roads and driver inexperience. Because the company forced him to drive despite his discomfort, the company may share liability for the accident.
- The company pressured its drivers to exceed the federally restricted number of hours that they may legally spend on the road. A truck driver carrying a time-sensitive load encountered traffic and did not drive as many miles as planned. His employer pressured him to keep driving to meet a tight deadline. The driver complied due to fears of losing his job. Later, the driver caused an accident due to distraction likely brought on by road haze and exhaustion. The employer may, in this case, share liability for trying to force the driver to exceed the federally limited number of hours that he could legally spend on the road.
- The driver has a significant accident history. A commercial driver has a strong accident history. He even received a drunk driving conviction in the past, and he has escaped future drunk driving convictions several times only because of police error or luck. He has caused multiple accidents in the past. The company, however, continues to employ him. The driver later caused another accident due to his foreseeable bad driving habits. The employer who continued to employ that driver despite his accident history may share liability for any accident caused by him while on the clock.
- The employer fails to maintain a company-owned vehicle. The brakes on a company van needed maintenance several hundred miles ago, but the company has not taken care of that maintenance. Instead, the company continues to push its employees to drive the van, even while knowing that the brakes needed work. Several times, employees have had near-miss incidents where they almost caused an accident. Now, the employee driving the vehicle has actually caused an accident. Because the employer failed to properly maintain the vehicle, the employer may share liability for the accident.
The Company Mechanic
Company mechanics for large commercial trucking operations may have responsibility for a large number of vehicles at any given time. Some companies employ an in-house mechanic; others, however, may outsource maintenance and repairs on their vehicles.
Some mechanic shops prove more reputable than others. In some cases, a mechanic may claim that he or she completed the necessary repairs on a vehicle without actually completing those repairs. The mechanic may, instead, rig the vehicle to appear repaired or fail to complete the repairs despite checking them off on the list. Sometimes, the driver will note those problems and take steps to fix them. Other times, the driver may fail to note continuing problems, which may pose a serious risk to both the driver and others on the road.
A mechanic can also break other parts of the vehicle while attempting to complete repairs. In some cases, the mechanic may try to hide that damage rather than admitting it and taking care of it.
When the mechanic’s error causes an accident, and the mechanic does not work directly for the company, the mechanic may then be liable for the accident.
The Vehicle Manufacturer
Sometimes, vehicle manufacturers may send out vehicles that have known faults or that have faults that can lead to serious accidents. Most commercial vehicles go through extensive testing before they make it to the market. Unfortunately, many errors do not become visible until later, once the vehicles have caused serious accidents. The vehicle manufacturer may bear liability for any accidents caused by a manufacturer’s error.
4. Sideswipe Accidents
Sideswipe collisions can occur in several scenarios. Most often, they occur when merging onto an interstate or highway. The vehicle attempting to merge may not have adequate room to make it over, but may try to fit the car over anyway. The merging vehicle may swipe another vehicle. At high rates of speed, this can cause serious damage to both vehicles. The passengers on the side of the car hit during the accident may suffer serious injuries.
Sideswipe collisions occur frequently due to driver distraction. In many cases, distracted drivers fail to keep their vehicles safely in the proper lane. Drivers may drift into the oncoming lane, especially in tight turns or when staring down at a cell phone or other distraction. Other drivers may have little time to react to the car drifting into their lane.
Most of the time, the car that does the swiping—the one that drifts out of its assigned lane—bears liability for a sideswipe collision.
5. Drunk Driving Accidents
Drunk driving accidents often cause more serious injuries than accidents with sober drivers. Drunk drivers may have poor reflex control or struggle to make appropriate decisions behind the wheel. If these drivers do cause an accident, they may not have the ability to slow their rate of speed or help turn away from a potential accident, which would normally help reduce the severity of an accident.
Most often, drunk drivers bear liability for the accidents that they cause.
In California, drunk drivers do not share liability with the bar or restaurant where they became intoxicated. California’s dram shop law protects bars and restaurants. While alcohol consumption and choosing to get behind the wheel can significantly increase the risk of an accident, California law holds drivers directly liable for their own decisions. Bars and restaurants cannot control the actions of patrons once they leave the premises, and servers and bartenders cannot always accurately predict inebriation or determine whether a patron intends to get behind the wheel. For these reasons, most of the time, drunk drivers bear direct liability for their own actions. An exception to this law applies to anyone who serves visibly intoxicated minors.
6. Left-Turn Accidents
In a left-turn accident, especially one in which the turning vehicle does not use a turn signal, the turning vehicle may attempt to cut too quickly across traffic and cause an accident. Often, turning left can prove incredibly frustrating, especially if the driver does not have a traffic signal to help aid in the turn. Most of the time, the turning vehicle is liable in a left-turn accident.
However, in some cases, the other driver can share liability for a left-turn accident. An oncoming vehicle might, for example, ignore traffic signals, hurrying through an intersection instead of stopping or failing to yield for the turning vehicle. An oncoming vehicle traveling well over the speed limit can also share liability for an accident, since the turning vehicle may not have time to adequately judge the driver’s changes in speed.
7. Head-On Collisions
Head-on collisions can occur for a variety of reasons. Most often, these accidents occur due to driver distraction or choosing to completely ignore the rules of the road. A distracted driver may, for example, drift into the opposing lane of traffic or mistakenly travel the wrong way down a one-way street. Other drivers may have no chance to get out of the way, leading to a head-on collision. A drunk driver may also travel the wrong way down the road. Sometimes, head-on collisions can turn into multi-car accidents, since other drivers may not have time to swerve or stop.
Most often, the driver in the wrong lane bears liability for a head-on collision.
8. Aggressive Driving Accidents
Aggressive driving can cause danger on the road. Aggressive drivers may, for example, swerve in and out of traffic, travel at high rates of speed, tailgate, or stop abruptly, making it difficult for other drivers to predict their behaviors. Most often, aggressive drivers bear liability for accidents caused by their dangerous behaviors.
In some cases, however, other drivers may also share liability; if the other driver makes an error due to distraction, for example, that driver may share liability for the accident. A driver who responds to the aggressive driver’s behavior by also driving aggressively may escalate the situation and increase the risk of an accident, causing the driver to share liability for the accident.
Determining liability can prove critical in any type of auto accident scenario. Not only may the liable party end up responsible for paying for damages, but liability can also affect your driving record and even your license status. An attorney can help sort out the factors that contributed to your accident and help you identify all liable parties.
Contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible to learn more about your legal rights or to help determine liability for your accident. Many car accident attorneys offer free consultations during which you can discuss the details of your case and determine your eligibility to seek compensation.
Gomez Trial Attorneys
655 West Broadway, Suite 1700
San Diego, Ca 92101